Local SEO – Big Google Places Changes

Google Places BombGoogle made some big changes to Google places this past week that will affect local SEO. How much we don’t know yet, but we’ll watch and see what happens.

Google Places Review Purge

If you go to your Places page or any other Places pages you’ll see a huge change to reviews and citations. Google has removed reviews from Yelp and other 3rd party review services and replaced them with a big red button for a Google Review.

Google Places Citations Killed

Citations are gone. They’ve been removed. I believe Google will still count them, but just like most of the links they have in their databases for a site, they’re not going to show them. This makes it more difficult for SEO because competitor citation sources are not longer there for easy pickings.

Matt McGee at Search Engine Land has more:

Local searchers and local businesses will see a fairly substantially different Place Page the next time they’re poking around Google Maps/Places. The company announced a new look Thursday and promises more changes to come.

The new layout of Place Pages puts a heavy emphasis on reviews. More specifically, it emphasizes reviews from Google users and no longer shows review content from third party sites. (Google had issues with both Yelp and TripAdvisor over review snippets last year, you may recall.)

Go to Google Overhauls Place Pages, Emphasizes Reviews & Kills Citations to read his story.

We can see it’s very important for small business SEO to stay up on changes at Google. Why, because they are making them all the time. Stay tuned for more.

Are You Advertising for Your Competition?

Local SEO Example Uncle Bill's DinerIf you rank number one for your own business name, you’ve met the most basic local SEO requirement. If you’re not, you are advertising for your competition.

The most basic local SEO requirement for your website is ranking number 1 in Google, Yahoo and Bing for your own business name. If your business is Uncle Bill’s Pancakes, you must rank number 1 for Uncle Bill’s Pancakes.

Even if you’ve done no local or small business SEO, you may rank number one for your business. If not, you have some work to do.

Why You Must Rank Number 1 for Your Business Name

If I’m looking for you and typing your business by name in the search engines, I want to know about you and how you can help me. If your website doesn’t return as number 1 in the results, or is not there at all, you have placed your trust in another site to deliver your business to the customer.

The problem with someone else providing information to your customer is that for them, you are advertising bait. They are using you to bring people to their site to sell them something else. They have their own interest above yours. I’m not criticizing them, just pointing out that it’s not the best result for you.

It’s About Control

When your business website is ranked number 1 for your business name, people will go to your site and you can give them what they’re looking for. You control the content without ads to competitors and other sites. You can begin building a relationship right away. You can give them information to contact or visit you and you can give them reasons and enticements to do so.

Are You Advertising For Your Competition?

Imagine this scenario. You advertise in the local newspaper and a customer sees your ad but doesn’t know anything about you. They want to know more. There’s no website address in the ad, so they go searching.

They type in your business name, but you’re not there. Instead there’s a directory site of some type. The searcher, your potential customer, clicks on their site to find out more. They get very basic information about you, but they also get an ad from a competitor and one from Amazon.com.

What’s their next move? You don’t know. They could call or visit you, or they could click on one of the other options. If your site ranked number one they would have one option. Now they have three or more.

Use Local SEO to Rank Number 1

If all you’re going to do is create a website without SEO, then use your business name (unclebills.net) as the domain name. This will almost guarantee that you will be ranked number 1 for your own name.

If you are planning to rank for more competitive terms and use seo for small business, then you may use a domain name more related to the business (manhattanbeachrestaurant.com) instead of your business name. In that case, make sure your business name and address with telephone number are on every page. It can be in the footer, but make sure it’s there.

Finally, regardless of which way you choose to go, make sure you claim your Google Places listing and do the same with Yahoo and Bing. Be certain to associate your website with those services.

I’m a local SEO specialist serving small businesses. Please contact Mike Byrne at 386-295-2049 for more information, or leave a comment below.

Assessing Local SEO Competition – Part 1

Biloxi Seafood Wonder Wheel

How much should it cost you for your local seo program? The answer is based on one key factor – competition for the keywords you’re targeting.

Assessing Local SEO Competition – Part 1

This will be a multi-part series on assessing small business SEO local competition. This first part will define exactly what we will be looking for to determine the level of competition. Parts to follow will deal with tools for manual assessment and then tools for automating the assessment process.

Here are the factors we will looking at in Part 1:

Who’s Number 1?
Google Places
Adwords Competition
Google Keyword Traffic
Google Recommendation
Real SEO Competition

Who Is Ranking Number 1 in Google?

It’s best to use an example. Since we are focusing on small business, let’s go with a geographically targeted keyword phrase – Biloxi Seafood Restaurants. Although I picked Biloxi randomly, it is a good example of how small businesses are addressing local SEO.

So, the question is who among the local Biloxi seafood restaurants in number 1? The answer is not as easy as it looks. First Mary Mahoney’s is at the top of the Google Places 7-pack.

Google Places for Biloxi Seafood

Google places are not part of SEO, but SEO is part of Google Places. I’ll explain shortly. For now though, see the Mary Mahoney’s is first in Google Places.

Looking at the top 10 listings in the natural or organic search results, we see no local restaurants with the exception of Bonefish Grill which is a national chain. All the other organic listings are from Yelp, Yahoo and other aggregators. By aggregator, I mean a site that take information for a location, builds a page and then has it rank because of the size of the site (in number of pages).

Organic Listing for Biloxi Seafood

Mary Mahoney’s is the first organic listing for a local restaurant – at the top of page two. No other local restaurant is ranked in the top 50 of Google results. Mary Mahoney’s has the top Google Places listing and the top organic listing. This is unlikely an accident. Mary Mahoney’s is at the top of Google Places because they are the top organically ranked site. Otherwise, neither Mahoney’s or any other Biloxi seafood restaurant is aggressively pursuing SEO.

Google Places

We discussed Google Places above. It is the easiest way to get on the first page of Google – FOR NOW! The key ingredients are reviews and other pages linking to the site with information that Google considers important for Places rankings.

Do you need to be in Google Places. Yes, absolutely starting yesterday. Competitors who are there now are ahead of you in reviews and probably in SEO. Get in Google Places now.

Adwords Competition

A quick competitive review is to make sure there are a few Adwords present. There are only a few Adwords bids showing for Biloxi Seafood Restaurant. It’s probably not a highly searched term, so let’s move to the next step.

Google Keyword Traffic

Access the Google Adwords Keyword Tool by typing “google keyword tool” into the Google search box. Once at the keyword tool, type Biloxi seafood restaurants in the Word or Phrase box. Enter the captcha in the box and click the search button. We see (on this day) that there are 390 monthly searches for Biloxi Seafood Restaurants. That’s about 13 a day. Not a high number, but not bad for one term. Look at the rest of the list we exported from the keyword tool and you’ll see more terms to add to the total:

Biloxi Seafood Restaurant Keywords

Look at the total – 33,439 monthly searches for keyword terms related to Biloxi Seafood Restaurants. Most of that traffic right now is going to the aggregators and they can be pretty easily outranked. If a seafood restaurant in Biloxi wanted to increase sales, there is a golden opportunity. Look at the Competition column. A higher number means more competition, with 1 being the most competitive. This is a low competition market. There is plenty of traffic and low competition. Small Business SEO with Google Places would yield a lot of traffic within six months to year, but probably a lot sooner.

Google Recommendations

Type Biloxi Restaurants in the Google search box and click search. Go to the bottom of the page and you’ll see, Searched related to Biloxi Restaurant. As you can see, Google is giving you additional search terms.

Biloxi Seafood Related Sites

Next, look on the left column of the search results. Click on show search tools and then Wonder Wheel. What have we here? Google is showing more search terms that are related to your term. Analyze each of these terms in the same way and you can see that there is a lot of opportunity.

Biloxi Seafood Wonder Wheel

Real SEO Competition

When you type Biloxi Seafood Restaurants in the Google search box, you’re getting what are called broad match results. This means that Google will give you results broadly related to your term. Type “Biloxi Seafood Restaurants” with the quotes and you are getting Phrase match terms. What is the difference? They show us if anyone is aggressively targeting your search term. They are giving a key element of local SEO competition.

Here are the results in terms of pages returned for each type for Biloxi Seafood Restaurants:

Broad Match – 380,000 pages
Phrase Match – 10,800 pages

We can see that only 2.8% of the pages that Google show in broad match show in phrase match, but let’s take it one step further. Type allintitle:Biloxi Seafood Restaurants. The results show on 363 pages in the world have our search term in the title. Now type allintitle:”Biloxi Seafood Restaurants”. The results drop to 68. That’s our competitive number. These are the pages we need to beat. How tough can that be?

Page Links

The first result of the 68 phrase match allintitle is from Yelp. It is showing 102 backlinks to the page using Yahoo! Site Explorer (https://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/mysites). However, site explorer shows only 15 of those links are from external sources and all of those are from one site (Yahoo Local). That’s the number one result and they are there not because of the page strength, but because of the site size. A local site using local SEO should be able to gain that number one listing over time. There’s no guarantee but it should be accomplished in a short period of time.

Summary

There’s a lot of material here when you look at it for the first time. We describe the different elements here so that when we talk about automating the process, you’ll know what’s behind the scenes. You can check a few sites following this method, but come back in a few days for Part 2 of Assessing Local SEO Competition. If you have questions or comments just type them in the comment box below.

The Elements of Local SEO

Local SEO Image

Local SEO Image

Local SEO will be the primary source of search engine traffic for many small businesses. When we talk about local SEO, two distinctions are important. First, you are local if you are selling to the local community. Think of a hardware store or beauty salon. Second, you are local if you are selling some tangible property both to locals and out of area people. Think real estate, classic cars, boats and so on.

The elements of a local SEO campaign are fairly basic, but can get more complex depending on the business. We recommend all local small businesses have a website with a domain name that they own. Do not put your main site on free hosting of any kind. The major elements of local SEO are:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • SEO Content
  • Links
  • Google Places
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Website

The first major element must be your website. The website should be designed to reflect your business. Remember, your website will be the first impression for your business when visitors come to the site. You want them to be impressed enough to stay awhile. Ask the hard questions, why would a visitor want to come to my site and why would they want to stay? Make sure your site answers the question. The website is the primary elements of your website.

Your Blog

The next element is a blog. We recommend WordPress for building both your website and your blog. A professional template will also take care of design. Use static pages for your website and posts for your blog entries. Blog entries will rank in the search engines on their own, but they will also allow you to send links to your pages and other posts. Your blog can be part of the website or stand-alone. It’s easier if it’s part of the main site, but if you have an existing website, it may sense to create a new domain and host the blog there.

SEO Content

In many cases, you will be concentrating on geographic keyword targeting. Simply this means, Marion CPA and Accounting, rather than CPA and Accounting. Many local searches are geographically targeted. All the services and products that you offer should be targeted using your local community or communities. Towns, cities, neighborhood names and so on should be targeted. Use the town and the state too. Make sure that your pages and posts are titled using these geo targeted keywords.

Not all local businesses will use geo targeting, but if you are serving the local community, geo targeting is absolutely critical. Create lots of pages and posts about your products and services.

Links

80% of competitive keyword rankings come from off page SEO factors and links are what that 80% is all about. More competition means more external links to your pages. Links with anchor texts for your chosen keywords act as votes for that page. You may need a few links or a few hundred links to push your page to the top of the listings. Link building is critical you must learn to build links or find someone who can do it for you. Check out Off Page SEO Factors for more on link building.

Google Places

If you have a local address where you do business, you must be on Google places. These are the listings that are showing at the top of local Google search results pages with the flag and a Google Map. You can see it here for San Diego Florist. In some markets the competition will be low and just signing up through your Google account will be enough. In other markets, competition for the seven listed positions will be tough and you will need expert assistance. Regardless, this is the easiest way to get to the top of the listings.

Google Places Example

Facebook

Facebook is growing and more people join everyday, but it’s not for every business. My take for now is that a Facebook page (your business page, not your personal page) is more informational and supporting for most local small businesses – with a few exceptions. Those exceptions are businesses like bars, clubs and restaurants that have live entertainment and events. You customers will be happy to know that you are offering updates and more information on the acts and events. If you have a constantly changing mix of products, make your announcements in both your blog and Facebook. Offering coupons on Facebook will keep people coming back.

Note: If you’re not going to regularly engage with your Facebook followers, don’t start the effort. It will disappoint and alienate people.

Twitter

Open a account on Twitter just for your business. Twitter is like a carnival barker standing in cyberspace announcing things about your business. It can be a source of customers and followers if you offer them Twitter only deals, limited time deals and so on. Twitter can also be used to announce specials on your Facebook page or on your website. Twitter coupon codes can also work. Tweet things relevant to your business, not too much about you personally. Yes, people like to get to know you, but they don’t want to know what you’re doing unless it’s about your business topic.

Summary

Sometimes, local SEO can be accomplished with just a website with good content and a few good backlinks from other sites. It can also demand additional effort and investment if competition is high. Local SEO is no longer optional. More and more customers are finding local businesses through search engines. Make sure you’re where you need to be. Contact Mike at 386-295-2049 to discuss your options. I’m a Daytona Beach SEO specialist, but I serve the world.